Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Especially if they're arguments.
This Week in Voting
Democracy has been around, in one form or another, for a very long time. When this country was founded, the framers had a deliberate reason for choosing it--they didn't want to create yet another monarchy. They wanted the citizenry to be able to choose those who would represent us in government.
Since those days, the franchise has rightly been expanded. Now, women can vote, racial minorities can vote, the poor can vote, people over the age of 18 can vote. This is as it should be. The attitudes and prejudices of the Founding Fathers should not restrict who can participate in our democracy's most important function.
But 34 states--all of them Republican-controlled--have recently passed voter ID laws that make it harder for some people to vote. Among those people: the poor, racial minorities, and young people, all of whom are less likely to have or to be able to get the specific forms of ID required by those new laws.
But it's okay, because voter impersonation--the only kind of voter fraud a voter ID law can prevent--is a huge problem, right?
Depends on your definition of "huge." A Loyola University constitutional law professor has studied every election--"general, primary, special, and municipal"--held in the US since 2000. In those elections, more than 1 billion ballots were cast. Billion, with a B. Of that 1 billion+, there have been 31 different incidents of voter impersonation.
Not 31,000, or 31%, or even 3.1%. 31 individual incidents. Some haven't been fully investigated yet, and might turn out to be clerical errors. But even so, if each of them pans out, 31 out of more than a billion is...well, we're not going to do the math, so we'll turn to Kevin Drum: 0.00002%.
No election anywhere in the country has been tipped by voter impersonation. No election's results have even been made marginally closer. None. That much voter fraud wouldn't tick the needle in the slightest.
If voter impersonation is an imaginary problem, then what's the impetus for all these laws? The National Commission on Voting calls it. Voting discrimination--preventing people from voting on the basis of some particular demographic marker--is "a frequent and ongoing problem" (especially in the south and the southwest, TWiA's home turf). These laws make that problem worse.
The truth is that minorities, the poor, and young people tend not to vote for Republicans. Since the Republican stance on the issues is generally unpopular and their ever-rightward shift pushes them farther and farther from the American mainstream, they want to win elections by deciding who gets to vote and who doesn't.
That's not exactly how we define "democracy." But it's pretty close to how we'd define "fraud."
P.S.--if you're a taxpayer (and who isnt?), you ought to be pretty upset about your tax dollars being used to write and pass legislation designed purely so that a single party can decide who to disenfranchise. Passing laws in 34 states is an expensive proposition, and we're paying for it.
(More below the fold.)
The rating agency Standard & Poor's has lowered its growth estimates for the US economy, in large part because of an analysis they performed that shows that the huge and growing wealth gap in this country is hurting the economy. That gap has, as we've argued here in the past, helped create a boom-and-bust cycle that we had left behind in the aftermath of the Great Depression, but have found ourselves mired in once again. Their proposed solution involves, in part, increasing access to good educational opportunities.
An excerpt from a forthcoming book on the subject, We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money, describes the problem this way:
"Defenders of the status quo have no answer to why the U.S. is an outlier in the rate at which income inequality has grown. There is something about the U.S. that is unique, and it's not its markets, which are largely indistinguishable from those of other countries. No, it's the comparatively parsimonious investments the U.S. makes in its citizens.
"Americans simply do not have equal opportunities. This is more than an ethical or social issue: Underinvestment in human capital leads to lower productivity, which is to say, lower national income. Comparative data show that the U.S. offers less social and economic mobility than do many of its peer countries -- a startling rebuke to the mythology of America as the land of opportunity."
This Week in Africa
President Obama is hosting an African summit at the White House this week. Although the current ebola crisis will certainly be a topic of discussion, a more widespread issue remains HIV/AIDS. According to the Washington Post:
"For more than a decade, the United States has taken the lead in this fight, providing significant funding — $52 billion so far — to the cause through a program known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Begun by President George W. Bush in 2003, it is widely considered to be among the most successful foreign policy initiatives in history, credited with saving countless lives and helping to enhance the nation’s image abroad.
"The program remains one of the country’s most important foreign aid initiatives under Obama, but its budget has been cut significantly in recent years. Administration officials say it’s time to start shifting some of the responsibility for funding and managing the epidemic to the affected countries. That has been an unwelcome change for many — disrupting care on the ground for some patients and creating worry among HIV/AIDS advocates that some nations don’t have a robust enough medical infrastructure to handle the additional burden."
Congress is considering funding for the next fiscal year. There will be isolationist voices arguing that foreign aid is unnecessary and expensive, and there will be far-right conservatives arguing that any government spending is bad. Those viewpoints are both wrong. Americans extend a hand in times of need, to a next-door neighbor or across the ocean. And there's no question that controlling the spread of HIV/AIDs in Africa helps limit it elsewhere, including here, and helps grow the continent's blooming economies. Congress should honor the commitment President Bush made to this fight, and should allocate what's necessary to keep the effort strong.
Side Note: President Bush visited Washington this week to make a speech about the importance of continuing this struggle, during which he said, “Applied with clear goals and accountability, this saturation approach presents an amazing opportunity – the beginning of the end of AIDS.”
This Week in Grabbing Guns
The NRA has been right all along--there is a powerful force out there wanting to grab guns away from loyal American citizens! They were only wrong about who it is. It's God--according to deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy--and He wants to take guns away from federal law enforcement officials. Apparently, He wants FBI agents to go after bank robbers, kidnappers, serial killers, and more, armed only with Boy Scout knives. He wants Secret Service agents to protect the President with kitchen utensils. Feel the need to commit a terrorist attack on Congress? You'll have to get past the Capitol police and their sharpened sticks first.
God wants them all disarmed. He told Cliven Bundy that. Or, just maybe, Cliven Bundy is a deranged fool who should pay his bills like honest people do, and quit trying to speak for any Supreme Being. You can bet no Supreme Being would ever choose to speak through Cliven Bundy.
This Week in Innocence
The Marshall Project is a new investigative journalism effort created specifically to report on the American criminal justice system, which as we know is facing some enormous challenges these days. We incarcerate and execute far too many people, well out of proportion with the rest of the first-world nations. The MP's first major story broke this week--an investigation into whether Texas, back in 2005, executed a demonstrably innocent man. The evidence seems to indicate that they did.
This Week in Follow-up
We wrote a couple of weeks ago about the plagiarism scandal surrounding Sen. John Walsh (D/MT). Walsh was an appointed senator, and the only Iraq/Afghanistan veteran serving in the Senate. He was running for an open seat this year, but has decided to drop out of the race.
One can only hope that serial plagiarist Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY) will follow Walsh's example. That seems unlikely, though. Walsh acknowledged his offense and accepted the consequences. Paul, by contrast, tried to claim he had never plagiarized, claimed he was being held to an unfair standard, said he would like to challenge journalists who unearthed examples of his plagiarism to duels, and acted like the petulant brat he so often is. In claiming that he--or more precisely, his office, since he refuses to take personal responsibilty for any of his missteps--would seek to address the problem, he said, “What we are going to do from here forward, if it will make people leave me the hell alone, is we’re going to do them like college papers.” Yes, Sen. Paul, because the problem with stealing the intellectual property of others isn't that you are, say, STEALING THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF OTHERS, but that people won't leave you the hell alone when you persist in doing it time and again.
The fact that Sen. Paul is a semi-credible candidate for the presidency in anybody's mind is continually mystifying. He's a self-certified ophthalmologist with a famous father, no sense of ethical behavior, no hesitation about lying blatantly and repeatedly, who refuses to accept the consequences for anything. The difference is that Walsh is a soldier and has had personal responsibility drummed into him, whereas Paul is an overindulged crybaby. The other difference is that one is a Democrat and the other is a Republican, and as much as they claim that personal responsibility is one of their central tenets, in practice Republicans only want it to apply to Democrats, not to politicians from their own party.
This Week in Football
Speaking of spoiled, the NFL has a domestic violence problem. Like it or not, professional athletes are often role models, particularly (but not exclusively) to young men. If we're serious about addressing domestic violence in this country (a problem that's getting better, but not nearly fast enough), then major sports franchises like the NFL should take serious measures to deal with the issue in its own ranks. Instead, the league continues to soft-pedal the penalties, which doesn't create incentives for the players to clean up their acts.
Professional football players are paid--and paid very, very well--to be violent. They have, as we've learned, sometimes been paid bounties for causing deliberate injury to members of opposing teams. Even when they're not, the game requires a level of brutality we wouldn't accept on our streets. Overpaid young men who are encouraged to be violent on the field often have a hard time not carrying that into their personal lives. The only body that has any control over these players is the NFL, and it should start carrying out its duty by imposing real penalties on players, and working to educate them--and the football-watching public--about the issue.
This Week in Sick
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R/MN) has always had a tenuous grasp on reality. One could argue--and we do--that she's getting worse, not better. Her latest psychotic break? Read it for yourself (or listen, if you dare): "Now President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system. That's more kids that you can see how -- we can't imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a Ward of the state can't say 'no,' a little kid can't say 'no' if they're a Ward of the state; so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can't even say 'no.' It's sick."
Yes, it is. Not what the president's doing, but what Bachmann's fevered brain accuses him of. Naturally, she's making this up out of whole cloth--she hasn't a scintilla of evidence that the president is "trying to bring" those child refugees here--in fact, he's trying to dissuade them from coming, and it's working--or that he intends to use them for purposes of medical experimentation. The idea is truly insane.
In some places, people who continually see things that aren't there are strongly--sometimes forcibly--encouraged to seek professional help. In Minnesota, apparently, they're just sent to Washington, to become a problem for the rest of us.
This Week in How You Can Help
Ordinarily, this section discusses some charitable effort that could use a few more dollars or some volunteer time to make a difference in the lives of Americans in need. This time it's a little different.
There's a "charity" called Move America Forward that purports to use its donations to provide supplies and goodies to American troops. It's been heartily endorsed by former presidents and vice presidents, among others on the right. It regularly releases reports about its successful efforts on behalf of our fighting men and women.
It's all a crock. Much of the money raised--as much as 1/3--goes to a single man (who also rakes in big bucks from his role with the Tea Party Express, similarly raising money from people who have a genuine desire to participate in the political process but are unknowingly helping to enrich a charlatan).
Move America Forward is not delivering to the troops what it claims. It's taking money from people who want to support American soldiers in harm's way and instead handing it off to a well-heeled scam artist. Taking money under false pretenses is wrong; using our troops as a smokescreen to take that money is repugnant. If you're giving money to Move America Forward, please stop. You might even want to demand a refund.
This Week in Bears
We all now that a bear can stand up on its hind legs. But when they walk around that way, it's more than a little disturbing.
And bears are no dummies. Oscar escaped his habitat in a Texas zoo, because he wanted to cool down with a nice dip in the harbor seal pool. It gets pretty hot in Brownsville this time of year.